Lloyd Woolacott carving his way into one of the tech sections of Snowdon while the sun bursts through to grace us with a couple of minutes of welcome sunlight.
Lloyd Woolacott carving his way into one of the tech sections of Snowdon while the sun bursts through to grace us with a couple of minutes of welcome sunlight.

It’s 6am on a Saturday morning and a large huddle of students are milling about in a car park in Sheffield. They’re next to a library, but there’s no studying going on today, because today is the day the University of Sheffield Cycling Club (UoSCC) were heading off for a weekend in Wales.

DIRT ISSUE 131 - JANUARY 2013

Words by Alex Kohnert. Photos by Duncan Philpott

At Sheffield we’re lucky to have some of the best riding in the country on our doorstep, in the shape of the Peak District – but that doesn’t stop our sense of adventure wanting us to go further afield. Riding, for uni students, is so much more than just getting outside and smashing up and down hills though. Our Welsh trip came at the end of November, when the days started getting shorter and the coursework started piling up in a big way, so a chance to get away from it all for two days was very popular, and spaces sold out within an hour of them going on sale.

While people were arriving and chucking bikes into the hired van, others who had got there earlier were standing about in the freezing cold chatting about tyre pressures, what the weather was set to be…and the one bight spark who’d already managed to get a mechanical on his way down. The first source of piss–taking for the weekend had already been established, and we hadn’t even left the car park yet. Perfect. Eventually all the gear was stowed away into one ram–packed transit, everyone piled into the rag–tag group of cars we’d pulled together, and we set off about an hour late in a haze of energy drinks and hangovers.

A quick hop down the M6 and everyone arrived at the first stop of the weekend: Coed–y–Brenin. One of Wales’ best trail centres, it doesn’t need any introduction – and after three hours cooped up in cars the whole group was itching to get out and ride. The big prize of the weekend was Sunday’s trip up (and then down) Snowdon though, so nobody wanted to smash themselves to bits on the Saturday – making Saturday’s riding a ‘warm–up’ if you like.

CYB’s eleven and a half mile MBR was the trail of choice for the day, and definitely delivered on its promise to deliver “a mix tape of Coed–y–Brenin’s best bits". Rocky descents, sweeping berms and a little BMX–style track halfway round, which provided a fun distraction, made for a fantastic couple of hours. By the end of the trail, it was pissing down with rain, but that didn’t stop a fairly sizeable bunch of the hardier guys going for a quick smash around the short but fun MinorTaur before darkness fell. One big plus of Coed for the Saturday was that there were showers available once the day was done – a fact that was highly appreciated by our group of soaked and muddy students!

After a quick wash everyone shacked–up at our home for the night, a local village hall (reliable and affordable was to accommodate large groups – there were over twenty of us). Who can complain about sleeping in the dry and warmth for £3 a head? Unexpectedly, this came complete with pool table, kettle and lots of foam kids toys (great for bedding), and everyone made themselves comfy. Soon enough, a massive pizza order was put in. Twenty–eight very hungry lads all wanting their body weight in fast food – the local rural Welsh takeaway didn’t know what hit it, and probably made a year’s worth of takings in one night. Soon the beer (generously provided by the club in the price of the trip) started flowing, and everybody began to wind down after a long day. A few guys brought laptops so that pictures and GoPro footage from the day could be looked through, analysed and subsequently mocked.

This pretty much sums up a lot of what the club’s about. Yes, we ride bikes, but we also like to have a few beers and talk bollocks once we’re done. A lot of the time if you’re riding you meet up with your regular group of mates or guys from work, hit the trails for a few hours and then go home for an early kip. When we get back from riding, we’ll usually rendezvous at the pub to chat about the day’s events, often with the risk of casual drinks turning into a mid–week student night out on the town, which certainly leads to knitting together a tight bunch of people. Most of us live on the four or five streets really close together, so it’s hard to make excuses as to why you can’t make it, especially if someone’s knocking on your door. Though it’s not all about the drinking, some of our lot don’t even drink alcohol at all – to help with ‘fitness’ they claim, whatever that is!>>

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Climbing into the clouds, Snowdon forced people to learn how to hike-a-bike as some sections of the climb get unrideably steep.
Climbing into the clouds, Snowdon forced people to learn how to hike-a-bike as some sections of the climb get unrideably steep.

Despite the usual post–riding antics we get up to, most people were pretty shattered from the day, and gradually slunk off to their creatively–made beds. Alarms were set for early o’clock in the morning, with dreams turning to the summit of Wales’ biggest mountain…

Eight o’clock came and went (which IS early for students), and people began waking up. Today was the big one…Snowdon. Despite a lot of bravado the day before at Coed, the mood was fairly subdued, with people thinking about the challenge ahead – or maybe it was the night–before’s beers kicking in, we’ll never know. Despite this, everyone fuelled up on cereal bars, checked bikes and packed up their dry(ish) kit before heading out. The hall was even given a decent clean. Who says students aren’t responsible?

A short drive through some classically breath–taking Welsh valleys brought our convoy to the little village of Llanberis and suitably big empty car park. Everyone piled out and began the standard pre–ride ritual of checking things, chatting about the previous days antics and thinking about what lay ahead. The day was Remembrance Sunday however, and so just before leaving the whole club commemorated it with two minutes silence at eleven. After this sombre and respectful break in proceedings, everyone jumped on their bikes and began the long accent.

Heading up the Llanberis path on the way to the summit, you began to notice the differences between the bikes people had brought. There was everything…and then some. A few guys having taken full downhill rigs, all the way down to the less–than–a–hundred–quid–Halfords–specials. One poor guy had even managed to give his front wheel a serious going–over at CYB, leaving it buckled in several places. Despite this, he still couldn’t resist going up Snowdon and ‘having a crack’ at it. Stirring stuff indeed.

Another thing that you noticed the further up you went was how most of the rocks were looking pretty sharp and nasty (with a few people lucky enough to experience this first–hand later on in the day). The phrase “you’d have to be mental to ride down this kind of stuff" was bandied about a lot. What people were forgetting was that we’d be riding down that later on. For a portion of the group this was one of their first experiences of real mountainbiking beyond the Peak District.

After almost three hours of riding/pushing up what seemed the world’s longest path, we finally made it to the roof of Wales. The weather up top was almost unbelievable. Despite the mountains namesake it wasn’t snowing, but we got sideways–flying hail instead. This meant a quick turnaround, but still enough time for a group picture. Grimaces of triumph were the order of the day.

Our descent to the bottom took us down the Rangers Path – a three and a half mile descent with some absolutely jaw–dropping views of the surrounding mountains. The first section was some really nice, flowing trail through really loose little sharp rocks. The weather was still appalling though, with barely any visibility, so most people bombed through this and down out of the cloud cover – although the vain blokes pushed back up to have a few pictures taken of them in action!>>

[part title="Bikes, Beers and Blizzards | Sheffield Uni Do Snowdon Page Three"]

 

At this point the combination of tiredness and the weather started to take its toll a bit, and a few guys began to make uncharacteristic mistakes. One stack in particular resulted in a pretty nicely gashed chin, and the unlucky rider was told to park–up, have a bite to eat and collect himself for a wee bit. Again, it’s a great part of riding as a club. We’ve all got respect for one another and want to have fun, but if someone’s about to do something really stupid or dangerous there’ll always be someone to step in and get some perspective on the whole situation. It’s how we got everyone down in one piece(ish), and means we luckily don’t really get our fair share of injuries, accidents, and guys coming out without proper gear for riding.

Towards the end of the Rangers Path proper came a section we dubbed as ‘Mordor’. It was the most tech part of the whole route – and definitely the most fun. A nice flowing rock garden, but one with some deceptively big drop–offs. Mordor definitely put the skills of everyone to the test – and skills are another area where riding with the university makes it interesting. Not everyone with us was an incredible rider. In fact, there were a few people who’ve been off–road on bikes for less than a year. Yet these guys were halfway up a massive mountain in the freezing cold, holding their own with some of the other blokes who’ve been tearing down hills on two wheels since they could walk. It’s catering to everyone’s skill and confidence levels, while trying to push people to develop as riders that makes the club such a great institution to have in Sheffield.

It’s not even the range of skills that make us so varied either – we have guys and girls from all sorts of backgrounds. From blokes that have never moved from the house in the village they were born in, to people who’ve never stayed in one country for more than a few years. Students aren’t just young either. Plenty of mature and post–grads have joined our ranks over the years – along with high ranking staff! To have a group of people from all walks and corners of life brought together by a mutual love of biking is pretty great to be a part of, and then being able to take that group off on a jolly to ride bikes in one of the best places in the country for a weekend makes it even better.

Following Mordor, everything calmed down and then ended in a push back uphill, which would allow us to descend back to the car park. Needless to say this wasn’t well received by tired legs and backs, but the rapidly fading light made everyone get a good crack on. We’d all spent so much time pushing back up sections on the Rangers Path that we arrived at this uphill about an hour and a half later than we’d planned, but you didn’t hear anyone complaining…until the group suffered two more punctures in the space of about forty feet.

Without a doubt, Snowdon should be right up near the top of any list of riding destinations for people based in the UK (and you certainly wouldn’t be disappointed if you made the trip from further afield). It is a real effort to get up to the top, but that just makes you feel that bit more satisfied when you make it down. The best review I can give it though is that none of our lot that went along for the weekend will forget it in a hurry – and that’s a ringing endorsement if ever there was one.

Also, if you ever happen to be in Sheffield and fancy a ride with some good beer and chat afterwards, please come and find us. We ride at half one every Wednesday from the Arts Tower car park by the uni (we’ll be the massive group of bikers clogging up the entrance to the library, you can’t miss us). It’s not Snowdon, but you’ve got a pretty decent chance of enjoying yourself if we’ve got anything to do with it.

Ed’s note: If you are taking on Snowdon remember that it is a massive mountain…it’s 3,560 feet high, so be safe. Also you should be aware that there is a ‘Snowdon Voluntary Cycling Agreement’ where cyclists have agreed that between the hours of 10am and 5pm from 1st May to 30th September cyclists should not cycle on the Snowdon bridleways. Nobody wants a complete ban to be brought into force, so try and follow these ‘rules’.